I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Book and Lyrics: Joe DiPietro

Music: Jimmy Roberts

Director: Karl Steele

The Old Joint Stock is carving a niche for itself presenting musicals in its intimate theatre. Its latest offering is a version of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which in its structure is perfectly suited to the Old Joint Stock’s space. Originally performed Off-Broadway in 1996, the show became the second longest-running Off-Broadway musical and was nominated for the Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical. It has evolved since then, taking account of changing times, but remains a series of short standalone scenes that depict the different stages of relationships. So we see couples awkwardly dating for the first time, nervous about the image they will present, meeting the parents before seeing a surely ill-fated wedding before the interval. In the second half, couples deal with the pressures children bring to bear on a relationship, and what happens at the end – and after the end – of one. These scenes are presented by an energetic cast of four who slip in and out of the various roles with ease.

There is the possibility with such a show that the multitude of characters can become stereotypical or cartoonish. However, the writing of Jimmy Roberts and Joe DiPietro helps to offset that as a variety of non-standard characters pass before our eyes. For example, in an early scene, Ollie Thomas-Smith and Sophie Kandola bring us a couple so busy they don’t have time for the social niceties and skip multiple steps in the dating game. Most scenes are played for laughs, for example, when Megan Carole and Aidan Cutler bring us a couple who need help with their sex life; others are more poignant. In The Very First Dating Video of Rose Ritz, Carole brings us a hurt woman taking tentative first steps after the collapse of her marriage, while a scene towards the end, in which an elderly man and woman connect at (yet another) funeral, with its echoes of I Remember It Well, is remarkably moving. The cast ensures that all of the characters they present are well-differentiated both physically and aurally as the accents used complement the characters in each scene.

The original version exclusively depicted male-female relationships, although for most of the scenes, the gender of the protagonists isn’t crucial. So this production has switched a couple of scenes to include same-sex couples, which is welcome, even if the choice of scenes so adapted isn’t the obvious one.
In such a fast-moving show with actors having to rapidly establish characters, it’s important that the pace never flags. Richard Constable’s set is simple and allows for rapid changes giving each location its own personality. However, some of the blackouts in which the scenes are reset and furniture is moved feel a touch long and there is maybe some scope to tighten these.

While there may not be any true showstopper songs, the young cast, all superb singers with voices that can soar and fill the room as well as underline poignancy at times, interpret them well. DiPietro’s book and lyrics are both witty and economical and director Karl Steele has ensured that all of the gags land – as well as the emotional hit of the more introspective scenes. Indeed, the show is crafted to manipulate our emotions, which lifts it above a mere sketch show, leaving one thinking about some of the characters well after the curtain has fallen.

If you’re looking for something that’s light but challenging, thought-provoking while being laugh-out-loud funny, this is for you.

Runs until: 12 August 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Light but challenging

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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